The Garden and surrounding area are one the few natural refuges in the region and hence it houses many animals that have been lost in areas that have seen more urban development. The area of Turbaco has always been famed for its bird diversity and thus is an ideal place for bird watchers. An experienced bird spotter can easily see or hear some 45 species of birds, including unusual ones like manakins, motmots, stripe-backed wrens, and the endemic chestnut-winged chachalaca, but the garden is also home to many other animals.
The botanical garden is home to a several mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates. Residents and frequent visitors to the garden, which you are likely to see are:
Mammals: The Botanical Garden is home to a number of native mammals, typical for the South American dry forests. The most easily spotted are the many red howler monkeys (Alouatta seniculus) that make their presence heard by their strangely haunted voice. Another common animal is the red-tailed squirrel (Sciurus grantensis), which likes running up and down the trees to find fruits and seeds. Brown-throated three-toed sloths (Bradypus variegatus), Central-American agoutis (Dasyprocta punctata), and collared pecaris (Tayassu tajacu) are also frequently seen in the garden. There are several bat species that roost in the trees, roofs of buildings and the school ruins, but these are more difficult to find during the day. The endemic cotton-top tamarins or ‘mono titi’ (Saguinus oedipus) can be seen in a reserve just North of Cartagena.
Birds: A great number of birds can be seen or heard in the garden and the garden is thus a birder’s paradise. Trained bird watchers can ready find some 40 species in the garden, including chestnut-winged chachalaca, black vulture, turkey vulture, gray-lined hawk, zone-tailed hawk, ruddy ground dove, white-tipped dove, groove-billed ani, squirrel cuckoo, hummingbirds: rufous-brested hermit, pale bellied hermit, black-throated mango, rufous-tailed hummingbird, whooping motmot, rufous-tailed jacamar, keel-billed toucan, red-crowned woodpecker, lineated woodpecker, orange-chinned parakeet, brown-throated parakeet, pale-legged hornero, yellow-crowned tyrannulet, yellow-olive flycatcher, great kiskadee, boat-billed flycatcher, social flycatcher, tropical kingbird, lance-tailed manakin, white-winged becard, rufous-browed peppershrike, yellow-green vireo, black-chested jay, gray-breasted martin, stripe-backed wren, bicoloured wren, black-bellied wren, clay-coloured thrust, blue-gray tanager, glaucous tanager, bananaquit, giant cowbird, crested oropendola, Trinidad euphonia. With a friendly ‘hola’, our pet macaw will welcome you to the garden. He lives near the café.
Reptiles: Besides birds there are also a good number of native reptiles to be seen. These include box turtle in the pond, green iguana (Iguana iguana) in trees, common basilisk (Basilicus basilicus) of ‘Jesus lizard’ as it can walk
across the water, rainbow whiptail (Cnemidophorus lemniscatus), and several other lizards, geckos and even some harmless snakes.
Amphibians: The most abundant is the yellow-striped poison frog (Dendrobates truncatus), which is common along the water courses, particularly during the wet season, although they can be spotted throughout the year. Several other night-dwelling frogs are also present, but can only be heard at night when the garden is closed.
Fish: The ponds have several species of small native fish. The ponds and streams also house a native species of cone snail, which leaves wriggly tracks in the sand on the bottom of the pond.
Naturally, insects are among the most numerous and diverse inhabitants of the forest, varying from small gnats and leaf-cutter ants to large bumblebees and giant moths, but the many species of colourful butterflies are especially an attraction for visitors.
Text and copyright: Maarten Christenhusz and Santiago Madriñán, Turbaco 2017